Bra Boys, 90 mins, rated [TBA], opening in cinemas on 15 March 2007.

(A slight variation of this review appeared in the March 2007 issue of the NSW Law Society Journal)


The Bra Boys are the boys from Maroubra – a gang of tough, tattooed, larrikin surfers. This documentary is their story, as told by the three eldest Abberton brothers: Sunny (the director and writer), Jai and Koby.

But this is no ordinary surfing film. The film makers set their story against the wider social history of Maroubra, beginning with the arrival of Captain Cook! ‘Maroubra,’ they tell us, is Aboriginal for ‘Place of Thunder’. It seems an apt name. Apart from the pounding surf, the brothers show us that Maroubra has had its fair share of trouble and strife: poverty, social dislocation, crime and drugs – using their family almost as a case study.

The boys had a heroin-addicted mother with a convicted bank-robber partner, who attacked 14-year-old Koby with a baseball bat, prompting him to leave home and eventually move in with older brother Sunny. The brothers supported each other – Koby has ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ tattooed around his neck. This support developed into a wider network, and eventually into the group known as the ‘Bra Boys’.

Both Sunny and Kobe became professional surfers – Koby is known as one of the top international ‘big wave’ surfers. They believe the secret of their success was their tough upbringing and self-reliance: it made them fearless. But the real drama in the story of the Bra Boys involves a murder charge. On 5 August 2003 Jai Abberton fatally shot standover man (and Bra Boy) Anthony Hines. Jai was charged with murder. He claimed he had no choice: Hines was going to rape Jai’s girlfriend.

Later, Koby was charged as an accessory after the fact, and hindering the police investigation into Hines’ death. While Jai served twenty months in jail, Koby was bailed and began surfing bigger and bigger waves to take his mind off his troubles.

The film is surprisingly gripping, and quite the social document. Not only does it examine youth and surfing culture, partying, drinking, drugs, football, violence and crime, it also explores multicultural Maroubra. It touches on the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, and the role of the Abberton brothers in (supposedly) limiting the spread of violence to Maroubra and beyond. In a revealing sequence towards the end of the film, the Bra Boys disclose their diverse national origins.

There’s a vast amount of documentary footage. Much intimate material was shot by Sunny, who had begun filming long before Jai was charged with murder. There’s plenty of surfing material and footage of major news events like riots. In one section, the film makers have re-created a riot outside the Maroubra RSL. The variety of these sources leads to noticeable variations in film quality, but that’s only to be expected in a documentary like this.

I also had occasional problems with the film’s sound levels: for me, too-loud music sometimes drowned out important spoken information. But generally the film is technically good, and the music is an interesting mix of contemporary Australian rock and hip-hop. The mammoth task of editing was done by Macario de Souza, himself a Bra Boy, who also contributed to the soundtrack.

Russell Crowe, who is friendly with the Abberton brothers, narrates. He was also credited as executive producer of the film when I saw it, but has asked that that credit be removed before the film’s release.

The film ends with an intriguing sequence farewelling those Bra Boys who have died. It’s a long list, but there’s no information about how they died, so we are left wondering: was it drugs, surfing, violence, fast cars or something else?

Despite the serious subject, there’s a lot of humour in the film. The exhilaration of surfing for these boys is clear. So is the fact that they love to party – even with their solicitors! They pack a lot into the 90 minutes of the film, and I’m sure they have much more to do and say. I suspect we’ll hearing again from, and about, the Bra Boys.